How To Save Your Relationship When You Keep Fighting About The Same Things

Photo: Hobo_018 | Canva
Couple talking through relationship

Whether you're married or just starting your relationship, learning to love and trust one another while understanding conflict resolution will help you through disagreements.

No one wants to think about divorce when they're newlyweds or recently engaged, but many conflicts disrupt your marriage and happiness, so it's best to address these issues head-on to avoid problems down the line.

Having the same argument over and over for the rest of your life is daunting. That's why learning to deal with perpetual problems before you tie the knot will set you up for a successful happily ever after.

Though you may never resolve an issue, you can manage conflict with less stress.

RELATED: 5 Ways Couples Can Fight Way Less & Have A More Satisfying Relationship

Here's how to save your relationship when you keep fighting about the same things:

1. Understand differences in personality and lifestyle

The reality is that there are problems in every marriage due to differences in personality and lifestyle. According to John Gottman’s research, 69 percent of relationship problems are perpetual. That means it’s unrealistic to think you need everything solved before getting married.

Let’s ditch the word “resolve” altogether and use “manage” for the problems that tend to get rehashed. To have a successful marriage, you must shift from explosive arguments that lead to hurtful comments, resentment, and disconnection to more effective communication skills.

Gottman found that emotional withdrawal and anger can lead to a distant divorce — about 16.2 years after your wedding, to be exact.

However, he identified four specific behavior patterns he calls the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” that can lead to an early divorce — just 5.6 years after saying, “I do!” This is not the happily ever after you’re envisioning!

2. Get to know Gottman's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Criticism: blaming or attacking your partner’s personality or character (ex. “You never do the dishes; you're so lazy!”)

Contempt: speaking to your partner from a position of superiority by undermining or devaluing, which also includes negative body language, such as eye-rolling, and hurtful sarcasm (ex. “I’d never do that, you’re such an idiot!”)

Defensiveness: self-protection through playing the victim or self-justifying to defend against a perceived attack (ex. “I wouldn’t have yelled if you didn’t push my buttons first.”)

Stonewalling: shutting down or withdrawing emotionally from the interaction. For example, after a wife criticizes her husband, he retreats to his man cave instead of responding or giving her the answer she needs.

Meeting your partner’s anger with hostility destroys trust and their ability to be vulnerable. This leads to a decrease in intimacy and connection. It’s essential to learn how to manage conflict healthily.

RELATED: Why Having The 'Same Old Fight' Is A Sign You May Be Soulmates

3. Be conscious of conversation starters

You can avoid these divorce-predictive behaviors by being more conscious of how you start a conversation. People typically engage in unpleasant behavior because they are flooded with emotions. Something your partner did (or didn’t do) got you upset. We tend to get angry when something is important and is misheard, invalidated, or deemed unimportant by our partner.

I like to think of anger as a secondary emotion. Usually, underneath the anger, you’re feeling hurt, sad, betrayed, fearful, or vulnerable. When you respond to your partner’s anger with more anger, it becomes very challenging to dig beneath your anger and address what’s going on.

When you communicate by engaging in one of the four horsemen, your partner responds to this negative behavior rather than to the core issue that’s important to you. This leads to you behaving as two opponents rather than as a team.

As soon as your partner feels attacked, blamed, or criticized, they will fire back, shut down, or defend rather than listen to what’s upsetting you in the first place.

Ultimately, everyone wants empathy and understanding from their partner and acknowledging responsibility when you’re wrong.

The next time you’re heated, be mindful of your automatic harsh response and try starting a more gentle conversation, phrasing it by using the following three-step approach.

4. Use the conflict resolution 3-step approach

I feel… [name emotion] about… [describe the situation that is creating the feeling, rather than your partner’s flaws] and I need… [describe how your partner can help you to feel better about the issue].

For example, my husband is way messier than I am, but rather than assuming he’s doing it maliciously to push my buttons, I acknowledge it’s a difference in lifestyle. A messy house makes me feel overwhelmed and prevents me from relaxing, whereas he can live in chaos — it’s just personal preference!

I could yell, demand, and criticize him for it, but I’ve learned that doesn’t get us anywhere. Instead, I say, “I feel annoyed about the dishes left on the coffee table. I feel like I can't relax with them sitting here. I need you to please put them in the dishwasher.”

When I speak to him calmly (which takes practice, especially when I’m annoyed), he usually says he is sorry and appreciates me not getting mad about it. I find it helpful to communicate when I expect him to clean up. No one is a mind reader, so you must put your expectations out there, negotiate, and agree upon them.

Now it’s your turn! Bring to mind some of your perpetual problems. Using this three-step communication approach, imagine addressing these issues in a new, softer way. Your job is to deliver this information so your partner can hear, understand, and empathize with your emotional experience.

When you focus on your emotions about the topic and identify how your partner can help, they can engage with you without being defensive, critical, or withdrawing. This is when productive conversation and compromise happen.

To secure a successful marriage, you should also learn when are the best times to bring up an issue.

RELATED: If You Fight About These 6 Things, Your Relationship Needs Serious Help

5. Remember timing is everything

If I approach my husband about the dirty dishes when he gets home from work and is stressed, hungry, and tired, I get a much different response than if his physiological needs have been met and we enjoy each other’s company.

Often, couples bring up issues when they are already heated and frustrated. If you can’t talk to your partner in a calm voice because you’re yelling or crying, then you’re not ready to have the conversation.

It’s okay to take time out to cool off and collect yourself, but you must communicate clearly to your partner that this is important and that you plan to return and talk. The last thing you want is for your partner to think you’re blowing off the issue at hand—this leads right back to the four horsemen habits!

Your goal during these perpetual problems is to stop engaging in hurtful ways of communicating and to increase positive interactions, such as remaining open to influence, validating your partner, empathizing with their emotions, and supporting each other.

Ultimately, you care about each other’s happiness — that’s why you’re getting married, right? Remember, you’re on the same team!

RELATED: 11 Ways To Develop Strong Emotional Intimacy So Your Marriage Never Ends

Samantha Burns is a licensed counselor, dating coach, and the love guru behind the free worksheet Reframing My Negative Thoughts About Love.

This article was originally published at Love Successfully. Reprinted with permission from the author.